Beth Roalstad knows the area faces big challenges as the number of senior citizens rapidly grows. As executive director for the Innovations in Aging Collaborative, she is tasked with educating the community, including local governments, on how the aging population can strain the local economy if policies are not changed.
Roalstad has advocated passionately for other issues. She was executive director of the Women’s Resource Agency and worked for the Mental Health Association of Colorado and Project WISE, a Denver-based group that aids women with economic challenges.
Beth took some time this week to talk to the Business Journal about her work.
You’ve had a distinguished nonprofit career. When did you begin working with them and what persuaded you to do so?
I joined Innovations in Aging Collaborative as a contractor in August 2012, assisting with fund development and working directly with the board president, Barbara Yalich. I enjoyed working on a new issue and working with the founding members of the organization: Barbara, BJ Scott, David Lord, Dr. Sarah Qualls and Toby Gannett. I was attracted to the executive director position, when it was announced they were hiring, for a variety of reasons. There is a terrific group of community leaders committed to the issue of aging in El Paso County — the board is full of leaders of respected organizations. These are the influencers.
Also, I was attracted to begin working with an organization as a startup. It is not very often that you have the opportunity to design and shape a nonprofit organization from the ground up — so often you come into an organization with history, some of which is good and some of which carries challenges. This is a clean slate — and I get to help to create it.
Finally, I was attracted to the topic of aging because it is very dynamic. It impacts so many facets — community/urban planning, health and wellness, housing, transportation, economic implications and fiscal policy and workforce issues. I had worked in human services on issues related to financially vulnerable women and girls for 10 years, and I was looking for a change and on opportunity to grow.
[pullquote]I was attracted to the topic of aging because it is very dynamic.[/pullquote]What is its mission, and how is it funded?
The mission is to convene the community to promote creative approaches that address the challenges and opportunities of aging. IIAC has received startup funding from private foundations and individual contributions. We will continue to seek support from private foundations and will broaden our appeals to individuals, businesses and public support from government sources if appropriate.
Is Colorado Springs a good environment for ambitious women in leadership roles?
In my experience, I have been able to hold leadership positions that I sought out. Thankfully, my past experiences and skills coupled with my ability to build relationships have supported my career and my ability to contribute as a volunteer on boards and committees. I have mentored other women and know that other women have not had the same experiences in their profession.
While I am very excited to see women holding some very important positions in our community, I always feel like there is room for improvement. For example, there is only one woman on the board of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. There is only one woman on the executive committee for the Downtown Development Authority. Women are not equally represented in some of our community-wide leadership roles.
What age-related challenges are facing El Paso County?
The rapidly growing senior population may be the single biggest challenge. According to Colorado’s State Demography Office, the El Paso County population projections for adults between 65-90 are 2010: 61,788 people over 65; 2015: 82,546 people over 65; 2020: 107,383 over 65; 2040: 172,394 over 65, a 179 percent increase in 30 years.
Colorado has traditionally had a small population over 65 and a large young population. This is going to severely impact our local economy, and we are here to promote planning and program development to address this demographic change.
Other issues that exist include:
Lack of affordable housing and housing options for baby boomers and adults choosing to live independently and in small homes;
The growing numbers of seniors will put a strain on local resources and the sustainability of the key sources of support like the Colorado Springs Senior Center;
The increasing episodes of elder abuse and financial abuse of seniors in our community. It is a sad reality that financial abuse of the elderly is most often done by family members or caregivers;
The age range of older adults is large, 65-90+, and sadly many of the very old are living in poverty or subsisting on Social Security — which hardly allows for a thriving and robust life;
There is an increasing need for adults over 65 to continue to work — the proportion of adults working over 65 is projected to double by 2020.
Aging is expensive. Medicare does not pay for in-home caregiving in most circumstances. If individuals want to remain in their home, families are paying out of pocket for care that only gets more expensive. It is a sad reality that “end of life care” can drain the elderly person’s or family’s resources.
IIAC is promoting an opportunity to mitigate some of these challenges. We believe that creating neighborhood-based resources called iHubs (Intergenerational Hubs) to localize information and services to support seniors in their community will reduce transportation barriers and will increase health and safety for residents.
What resources does our region lack to adequately address the aging-related hurdles facing the community?
One of the biggest challenges is adequate transportation for individuals with limited mobility. As a community we must address that the growing number of older adults will need more public transportation, some of which will be specialized transportation. We need to dig deep and look at public solutions to this, such as a portion of taxes.
Lack of affordable housing for seniors. The availability of affordable housing and quality housing in our community is lacking. On a scale of 100 we received a ranking of 38 on affordable housing. And a 44 on the variety of housing.
Related to this issue is housing located within neighborhoods that has access to community resources that enhance life. Colorado Springs is very spread out — and it is not necessarily a “walkable city.”
Since alternate modes of transportation are limited, seniors become isolated and do not access cultural and recreation services as they age. This declines their quality of life.